Monday, April 27, 2009

House of Wax (2005)

This is a pitiable movie. A road trip to the college football championship takes a turn for the worse when a group of friends decide to camp out the night before heading to the game. A confrontation with a mysterious driver at the camp site leaves everyone unsettled, and Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) has her hands full trying to keep the peace between her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki) and her hot-headed brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray).

The violence is graphic and disturbing. Vincent is stabbed by Carly and pushed through the wax floor to his death by Nick, where he lands directly on top of his brother's corpse, re-uniting them in a sense, as they were originally Siamese twins. It is a loose remake of the 1953 film, which was itself a remake of the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum. Promotion included the phrase "See Paris Hilton Die." Part of the studio was burned during production.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. At the beginning of the 23rd century, the Federation Starship USS Enterprise is engaged in routine training maneuvers with Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) prepared to accept this as the last mission of his career. Aided by an exiled band of genetically altered humans, Khan, a renegade from the 20th century, has taken control of another starship and seeks revenge on Kirk by setting a deadly trap.

Khan was first introduced in the 1967 Star Trek television episode "Space Seed". The Genesis Device is a torpedo that terraforms lifeless planets. Kirk and Khan never confront each other face-to-face and their scenes were filmed four months apart. No artificial devices were used to enhance Ricardo Montalbán's muscular physique. Montgomery Scott loses his young nephew following Khan's attacks on the Enterprise. Spock is the first character seen and his voice is the last heard.

The Untouchables (1987)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie based on true events. Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is a federal agent sent to Chicago during the Prohibition Era, when corruption in the local police department is rampant. His mission is to prevent Capone’s bootlegging operation and charge him with a crime, but he is not taken seriously in the task. One night while walking, he meets a trusting patrolman (Sean Connery) who is willing to use unconventional methods to stop the mob.

It is based on the television series that ran on ABC from 1959 to 1963 and was also influenced by the autobiography from Eliot Ness. He was married three times and had one adopted son. He died in 1957 following a heart attack at the age of 54. Al Capone was in prison for 7 1/2 years and died in 1947. Alcohol was legalized again in 1933. Connery received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. He was paid with a 10 percent share of the sales.

Chocolat (2000)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Nobody could have imagined the impact the striking Vianne (Juliette Bionche) would make when she arrived in a tranquil French town during the season of Lent in 1959. In her very unusual chocolate shop, Vianne begins to create mouth-watering confections that almost magically inspire the straitlaced villagers to abandon themselves to temptation. But it is when the handsome sea-faring visitor Roux (Johnny Depp) arrives that she finally acknowledges her own desires.

The desserts in this film look very delicious. It is based on the 1999 novel by Joanne Harris. The title is a French word. The film was shot in the village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Burgundy, France, and on the Rue De L'ancienne Poste in Beynac on the Dordogne River in Dordogne, France. The river scenes were filmed at Fonthill Lake in Wiltshire, England. The film generated revenue of over 8 times the production budget.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fast and Furious (2009)

This is an okay movie. When a crime brings them back to L.A., fugitive Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) reignites his feud with agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker). But as they are forced to confront a shared enemy, Dom and Brian must give in to an uncertain new trust if they hope to outsmart him. And from convoy heists to precision tunnel races across international lines, two men will find the best way to get revenge: push the limits of what's possible in a car.

Jordana Brewster is beautiful and I especially like her eyes. This is the fourth film in the series and is set between the second and third films, and five years after the events of the first film. Brian uses his position at the FBI to wrongfully arrest Dwight Mueller, one of Braga's drivers, in order to take his spot on the team. The spanish phrase Vaya con Dios (meaning "Go with God") is said a few times in the film.

Underworld Evolution (2006)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Hunted vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) seeks out Marcus, king of the Vampires, in the hope of bargaining for her life. Hybrid Michael wants to join Selene in her quest but is unable to trust the werewolf raging uncontrolled inside him, and she refuses his companionship. Their love proves more powerful than genetics, however, when Marcus descends upon Selene, intent on annihilating her. In the battle that ensues, Selene discovers that she has been betrayed.

This is the second film in the series. Filming took place in Vancouver, Canada. The third movie called Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, was released on January 23, 2009.

The Mother Tongue

I liked this book written by Bill Bryson. The author covers the entire history of human language, from the crude murmurings of Neanderthal man and the more complex communication of Cro-Magnon man, our ancestors from 30,000 years ago, until the explosion of English as basically a global language within the past century. The book explores why some words are spelled and pronounced in unexpected ways.

Noah Webster sometimes stooped to plagiarism and Samuel Johnson was often wildly careless and inaccurate when defining words. Some of the most cherished rules of grammar can be traced to an 18th century clergyman named Robert Lowth. One of the greatest contributors to the history of English was a doctor confined to a lunatic asylum for murder named William C. Minor.

The book has a lot of interesting facts crammed in and even includes a little about other languages. Probably the most fascinating section was about how certain rules on grammar and spelling are ambiguous. Some reviewers have said it was a very funny book. I think most of the subtle and dry humor was beyond my comprehension, because I only found a few lines to be amusing. The book was written about 20 years ago, so most of the sources are from the 1980s and it would be nice to see an updated version, with more recent facts and newer anecdotes.

Better Off Dead (1985)

This is a solid but bizarre movie. After his girlfriend of six months ditches him for a rude ski jock, high school student Lane (John Cusack) decides suicide is the only answer. However, his increasingly inept attempts, bring him only more agony and embarrassment. When he meets the French exchange student (Diane Franklin) staying with a neighbor, his outlook starts to improve.

Howard Cosell was hired in 1970 by ABC to be a commentator for Monday Night Football. He died in 1995 at the age of 77. The Dodgers had moved to Los Angeles by 1958. The movie's final scene was shot at Dodger Stadium. Some of the skiing scenes were shot at Snowbird, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. During the sword fight with ski poles, the Mid Gad ski lift at Snowbird is plainly visible.

The Ladykillers (2004)

This is an okay movie. Professor Dorr (Tom Hanks) is a loquacious charlatan who has assembled a gang of experts for the heist of the century from a casino. The thieves are experts in explosions and tunneling. The professor is their critical inside man. The base of operations is the root cellar of an unsuspecting, church-going, old lady named Mrs. Munson. The five men claim they need a place to practice their church music, but it quickly becomes evident that Dorr's thieves lack the mental capacity to do the job.

This is a remake of the 1955 movie starring Alec Guinness. Previously Ethan had always been credited as producer, and Joel as director, but in this movie the Coen brothers shared both jobs. The setting of the film was moved from London to Saucier, Mississippi. This city is on the southern coast and has a population of around 1300. The movie was actually shot about 150 miles west in Natchez to take advantage of the Mississippi River.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Disqualified

About six weeks ago I saw an ad on the internet saying the military offers various financial jobs. I quickly discovered it was only for enlisted soldiers. Since my dad served in the army, I've always had a slight interest in the military and politically I am a very strong supporter, but I always assumed I wouldn't be able to handle the physical workout. I briefly spoke to recruiters for the Air Force and the Navy, but it was an Army Reserves recruiter who showed the most interest.

I didn't want to move away from Utah for several years, so I thought the reserves would be the best option. I took a practice ASVAB test and scored at the 95th percentile, so I knew I would perform well on the actual test. I remember it was offered in high school, but I wasn't interested in taking it. On March 9th I took the ASVAB and scored at the 99th percentile, the highest possible ranking. The test examiner joked that he didn't think I learned anything in school, but apparently I did. The people at the recruiting office were totally blown away and said they had never seen such a score. Because of this I was offered $20,000 towards current and future student loans, $20,000 cash, and about $650 per month to attend graduate school. Because of these benefits I decided to plunge right in.

Now when it comes to medical questions, the military seems to maintain an inconsistent policy. Some people say if you have a problem, but it is not serious, then don't say anything about it, while others say you should totally explain every issue. I told the recruiter I have mild eczema, but since it can partially be controlled with over the counter medication, she said not to worry about it, so she filled out the form and said I don't have it. I think the military should demand clear and honest answers, because it helps to avoid future problems.

I went to take the physical and I heard it was going to be a long drawn out and boring process and I would be at the facility for the entire day. I arrived at 6 am and everything was completed by 10:30 and it went smoothly. They checked hearing, vision, took a blood sample (the nurse missed the first time), a urine sample, and then the physical. We had to fill out another questionnaire before the physical, so the doctor could ask us any questions. The commander at the facility said we should be completely honest about all answers, because it determines what coverage you will get with the military healthcare. He said about seven years ago, he wouldn't take his dog to a VA hospital, but because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the threat of using a private hospital instead, the VA drastically altered their system and they now provide great healthcare. He said he would now be proud to take his son there.

I filled out that I have eczema and asthma. Now I have never been tested for asthma, but I run out of breath quickly while exercising and I don't think I have ever run a mile in under 8:30 and very rarely if I exercise too much or feel overwhelmed, I start gasping for breathe. The doctor asked me a few questions about it and said it was fine. He was upset about the eczema though and asked why I lied about it. He then asked me if the recruiter told me to put a certain answer and I said yes. He said I would have to bring in my medical history from my private doctor. This military doctor only did an interview, and a different one actually performed the physical. The next doctor said that the refraction in my eyes is really awful. He performed a hernia test and I must say my expectations of that experience were far worse than reality. I didn't know that it was used to check for hernias either, but I guess I never gave much thought as to the purpose.

Afterwards they said that some of the higher level military doctors would have to analyze my results. Today the recruiter wrote me an e-mail and said according to the commanding doctor, my eczema and vision are too severe for military service and so I am disqualified. At least I gave it try and now I have an official reason.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Shadow of Power

I didn't like this book written by Steve Martini. Left-wing professor Terry Scarborough’s latest book suggests a strong link between slavery and the Constitution. Stirring media frenzy, sales skyrocket and the author hints that a sequel will reveal even more dark secrets through a letter written by Thomas Jefferson. But on the day of his scheduled press conference, he is found murdered in his hotel room. The waiter at the hotel is considered the likely suspect because of his neo-nazi beliefs and connections. The defense lawyer, Paul Madriani, delves into the history of slavery and tries to find an alternative suspect.

If you don’t know that ideas relating to slavery are mentioned in the Constitution, then you are uneducated and need to read it. This is claimed throughout the story and even has a fictional interview with Leno who claims to be surprised. I find it absurd that so many people would be this ignorant. If you read the appropriate sections and think it endorses slavery, then you need to learn some history. The Constitution was written in 1787 and in Article 1 Section 9, it says that starting in the year 1808 Congress would be allowed to abolish the importation of new slaves. On March 2, 1807, Jefferson signed a law prohibiting the importation of slaves effective January 1, 1808.

Jefferson owned many slaves, but wrestled with the issue. Since slaves were considered property at the time and Jefferson had huge amounts of debt, he had to keep them until he could get out of debt, and he was never able to. He made sure his slaves were taught work skills and educated. In 1769 he proposed a bill to release all of the slaves in Virginia, but was unsuccessful. Through his will, he freed Sally Hemings (his wife’s half-sister) and their children, who were only 1/8th African. DNA evidence says her children were fathered by somebody in the Jefferson family, but Tom hasn’t been proven as the father. In the Declaration of Independence in 1776 Jefferson wrote “that all men are created equal.”

The founders understood that compromise was essential to create a stable government and they were educated enough to know which systems failed and which ideas had the potential for success. Slavery was an unfortunate and temporary compromise that had to be made in order to hold the Union together. The 3/5 person clause, was not intended to be an insult. Taxes and votes are based on population. The alternatives were for the slaves to not be counted at all or to be counted as a full person. Since they were people, it would have been terrible not to consider them at all. If they were fully counted, then it would have given the Southern states more power in the federal Congress and slavery probably would have persisted even longer.

Taking the slavery terms out of the Constitution would not be appropriate. The Constitution has had very few changes since the original document. It is a very important foundation which has allowed our country to be so successful, economically and politically. Leaving things in the Constitution allows us to remember our history and be reminded of what is successful and what mistakes were made and how far we have come. It was a progressive idea at the time to put ideas into our Constitution that would eventually abolish slavery. If you wanted to take out certain phrases, why wouldn’t you also remove the 13th Amendment, since it mentions slavery? The next step would be to completely destroy the Constitution and start over. Doing so would very likely destroy many of our freedoms and we would soon become just like any other failed government.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Old School (2003)

This is a solid movie. After an early flight home, Mitch (Luke Wilson) finds his girlfriend watching sexually explicit films with a couple of strangers. After they break up, he moves into a house near a university and two of his buddies decide they should start a fraternity for guys who are no longer in school. The dean of the university knew the guys when they were younger and decides he wants them evicted. He puts them through a series of tests to disqualify them from university support, but the plan backfires.

Oddly, this was a partially serious movie and in the unrated version there are only two scenes with nudity. Frank (played by Will Ferrell) is a recovered alcoholic. Harrison University is a fictional school in New York. Most of the filming was done in Los Angeles. Joseph Patrick Crenshaw, who played Blue, passed away on December 28, 2005. He was 83 during filming.